Chances are, your dog’s ears perk up and his tail starts wagging as soon as he sees his leash in your hand. Walking your pooch is great exercise for both of you. But walks can and do take unexpected turns — your dog darts away or bites a child who doesn’t know how to pet him properly, for instance.
Keep a leash on the dangers with these dog-walking tips from pet experts.
First, make sure he’s microchipped and up to date on his vaccines. While you’re at the vet, ask how much exercise he should get, advises Terri Bright, PhD, director of behavior services at the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Boston.
Like humans, dogs may develop arthritis and other painful conditions as they age. Exercise can help stave them off — but don’t do too much too soon. Just as you need to work up to long walks if you’re out of shape “you need to condition your dog, too,” says animal behaviorist Mary Huntsberry.
Know your dog, and reward him for good behavior. If you recently adopted your dog and aren’t completely sure if she will feel safe outside, don’t rush it, says Huntsberry. “You don’t want your dog to think that walking can be scary because the first experience was traumatic.” Walk her in the yard first and gradually expose her to the wider neighborhood.
Make sure your dog is hungry when you go for a walk and bring treats she is crazy about, says Bright. Reward her frequently for good behavior during the walk.
Keep her on leash. Never let your dog off leash unless you are in a fenced-in area. Even if you have the best-trained dog in the world, says Bright, you can’t predict how other people and dogs will behave. “Every day I see people [in the animal hospital] who thought their dogs would never get hit by a car. It’s tragic.”
Huntsberry adds there are just too many variables with a dog off-leash. “There are children, bunnies, squirrels, dogs. It’s dangerous and unfair to people who keep their dogs on leash.”
In case your dog does dart, make sure he’s wearing a collar that sports an ID tag with your name and phone numbers in addition to having him microchipped.
Don’t let your dog walk you. “People need to make predictions about what their dogs are going to do,” says Bright. “The dog can see a squirrel, run into traffic and get hurt, jump up and hurt somebody, knock a child over.” If your dog refuses to obey you or pulls on his leash, call a professional for help or enroll your dog in a puppy class, advises Huntsberry. If you have a big dog, the Humane Society of the United States recommends a head halter, which is painless way to prevent a dog from pulling you.
Use poop bags. Don’t leave poop behind. “It’s not only disgusting but it also spreads disease, like parasites,” explains Bright. It also upsets other people. “A responsible dog owner is someone who makes the community a better place,” she adds.
Approaching other dogs
You hope that other people follow these rules when they encounter your dog, so be sure to follow them yourself with other people’s pooches.
Ask before you touch. Don’t approach other dogs without asking the owner first. The other dog might be afraid, aggressive, sick or in pain, which might lead to conflict.
Read the dog’s body language. Even if you have permission to approach, look at the other dog’s body language as you get closer. If a dog is exhibiting any behavior that is not friendly, such as avoiding you, ignoring you or looking anxious, stay away, says Huntsberry. Dogs generally send a clear message by escalating aggression if you don’t back off.
If the dog is bowing, wagging his tail and has his mouth open, it’s likely safe for you to go over and say hello. If you want to have your dog interact with other dogs, Bright recommends having play dates with a canine your pooch likes, owned by people with the same philosophy you have about dogs.
What to do if your dogs bites or is bitten
If your dog gets into a fight with another dog, don’t try to grab the pups to separate them. Call to the other dog owner (if they are nearby) to alert them. Bright says you should not interfere. However, if you feel comfortable doing so, you may want to try grabbing the hind legs of your dog and pulling him back, while the other dog owner does the same with his or her dog, says Bright.
Thoroughly examine your dog to look for wounds. If your dog is hurt, call animal control to report the bite, and take your dog to the vet immediately. If people were hurt, they also need to go to the hospital for treatment. “There’s a lot of bacteria on a dog’s mouth,” says Huntsberry.
Also, even dogs vaccinated for rabies need to be quarantined, generally at home, for 10 days after a bite, says Bright. “Active rabies can only live for 8 days.”